Cardiff City 0-2 Liverpool: The Race Goes On
Liverpool’s title chances may have taken somewhat of a hit as rivals Manchester City beat Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 on Saturday, but it was always going to be a case of “do your best, win your own games and see where it gets you” kind of job.
The 35th round of the Premier League season saw the Reds march to Wales to take on the relegation battlers Cardiff City.
Joe Gomez made his first-team comeback after a long time in Liverpool’s Champions League triumph over Porto in midweek and was named on the bench again. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was ready for this one, but Klopp explained his absence by pointing out the number of players who are match-fit at his disposal. Adam Lallana also missed out.
Neil Warnock in the home dugout was without midfielder Harry Arter. Striker Callum Paterson and defender Sol Bamba remain long-term absentees. Midfielder Aaron Gunnarson suffered back spasm earlier in the week but he recovered in time to welcome the Reds.
The First Half
There was nothing to do for Liverpool but press on with the task at hand, and press on they did, right from the start. It took them less than 60 seconds to reach the box, and another 60 seconds to create the first chance of the game as Trent found Firmino with a lovey parallel, but the Brazilian not only missed the target by a few inches but was also offside.
The plan seemed to be to let the home side come out a little and look for runs in behind, and it looked quite promising as Cardiff players (and goalkeeper) had to make a few last-gasp punts to clear the danger away.
Liverpool were utterly dominant in midfield, winning everything there was to win in that area, but a loose pass gave Cardiff a chance for a counterattack in the 11th minute which they squandered through indecisiveness.
Having failed to find a breakthrough early, the Reds seemed to be forcing things slightly after a while and it not only made Cardiff’s defending a bit easier, but it also gave them some courage at going forward. With 14 minutes gone, another loose pass gave Cardiff another opportunuty to strike and this time Mendez-Laing got behind Trent and found Hoilett on the far post, but Robertson was there to sort it out.
The game was flowing in the same direction and the same tempo, with Liverpool seeing most of the ball and driving it forward and Cardiff defending in numbers and with great commitment. Whenever Warnock’s team looked for Niasse upfront, the strong striker was quickly dealt with by the impeccable duo of van Dijk and Matip and Liverpool went forward again.
Every player in Red looked very lively, and in the 22nd minute, Salah engaged Mane down the middle and the Senegalese released Firmino alone in behind, one-on-one with Etheridge, but his shot went wide of the top corner. A great chance wasted as Firmino seemed worried about the linesman’s flag more than about finding the back of the net.
Cardiff had another couple of attempts at going forward at pace, but they weren’t able to make any of them count. Liverpool’s attacks were still relentless and sharp, but the home team’s successful defending and Firmino’s missed chance were giving them belief that they just might get something from this game. Despite his team’s dominance, Klopp wasn’t looking happy.
On the half-hour mark, Trent whipped a cross in towards the run of Mane and the winger tried to flick it in from six yards under pressure from a defender, but the ball sailed over the bar.
Warnock was worried about his striker at this point. In the previous piece of play, Niasse had stayed down after a tussle with Trent and Firmino and required some medical assistance before he could continue.
Liverpool continued attacking, and in the 34th minute Henderson employed Salah on the edge of the box, the Egyptian turned nicely around his marker, but Etheridge did well to stop him one-on-one. Another great chance gone. Soon afterwards, van Dijk cleared a Cardiff corner and Mane helped it on, before Henderson released the run of Salah who entered the box and got crowded out. Then Matip ran some 40 yards with the ball before releasing Mane in behind, but the flag was up.
Apart from the obvious lack of finishing touch, there was nothing wrong in the way the Reds were playing, but it still counted for nothing without putting the ball in the net.
In the 40th minute, Keita worked well to win a corner against two defenders and Trent found Firmino at the far post, but all Firmino could do under pressure was head calmly into the hands of Etheridge. Three minutes later, Cardiff had their chance also from a corner. It was Hoilett who did well to win it, and the cross caused a scramble in the box at the end of which Niasse tried an overhead kick from close range, but Alisson saved it. Then it was Liverpool’s turn to try and hit on the counterattack, but Henderson and Trent over-complicated it.
A minute into the two minute stoppage time, Mane played a one-two with Keita and forced a foul from Gunnarson in a position good for a right-footed shooter to have go from. Trent lined up and hit the wall.
A fitting end to a frustrating 45 minutes of football.
HT: Cardiff 0 #LFC 0: Firmino, Mane and Salah all missing decent chances for the Reds who improved after a slow start. Alisson to the rescue with a fine save to thwart Niasse just before the break. Patience required.
— James Pearce (@JamesPearceEcho) April 21, 2019
The Second Half
Cardiff tried to surprise Liverpool early in the second half by coming out with some attacking football, and they spent a couple of minutes circling the box before a cross from Mendez-Laing found Morrison on the far post, but the centre-back wasn’t able to hit the target under pressure from van Dijk.
Then Liverpool retook control of the proceedings and the game continued as it had been going in the first half. In the 51st minute, Mane came very close by cutting inside and shooting just over the bar after some fantastic work from Wijnaldum. Three minutes later it was Keita who won the ball in the middle and employed Trent, who cut in and took a shot from range – wide.
There were still some signs of frustration visible, as first Wijnaldum and then Trent had shoving-to with Niasse and Bennet, respectively.
But Liverpool now pressed forward very hard. They won a corner in the 57th minute. Trent whipped it low towards the penalty spot, where it was met by Wijnaldum’s fierce volley to send it straight into the back of the net. Finally, a breakthrough.
The offensive continued, but the home side could have equalized quickly as Robertson undid his own great work by dispossessing Niasse and then giving the ball away in Liverpool’s half. Cardiff burst forward and eventually it was Hoilett who took a shot from the edge of the box, but it was easy work for Alisson.
Just after the hour-mark, Liverpool came very close to adding a second. Keita won the ball in the opposition half off Gunnarson and combined with Mane on the left, and the Senegalese found Henderson in the box completely unmarked, but the captain scuffed his shot and sent the ball over the bar.
Sloppy defending was now becoming more frequent from Warnock’s men, but they still looked capable of attacking quickly. Henderson managed to redeem himself up to a point by catching up to
The corner was taken into the six yards, Alisson came for it but was impeded by Gunnarson, leaving the ball for the completely free Morrison on the far post. How the Cardiff defender managed to ruin that chance will always remain a mystery.
Warnock made his first change in the 67th minute by replacing Niasse with Kenneth Zohore.
Sixty seconds later, referee Martin Atkinson made a mistake even bigger than Morrison’s. Hoilett defended a cross by quite obviously and quite deliberately passing it back to Etheridge who calmly picked it up in his hands. Nothing was given, to a huge surprise of anyone watching.
With 20 minutes to go, Klopp pulled out the industrious Keita and sent on Fabinho. The Brazilian wasn’t on the pitch longer than one minute when a head-clash with Zohore left him lying on the ground. Klopp looked thoroughly worried. There was no malicious intent in it, both players were going for the ball, and the Liverpool player simply got the wrong end of the stick. Klopp and the medical staff decided to take no chances and James Milner came on.
Cardiff made the most of the break in play to try and shift momentum their way, and they started attacking just as relentlessly as they had done at start of the second half. A long pass from the middle of the park reached Mendez-Laing at a full run inside the box, but Henderson was there to deal with him.
It was Warnock’s turn to make a forced substitution now as Ralls stayed down, holding his hamstring. Leandro Bacuna made his way onto the pitch in his place.
Cardiff tried to continue going forward, but in the 80th minute they made a mess of passing at the back and Firmino pounced, blocking a punt forward and releasing Salah into the box. Salah burst in and forced Morrison to grab hold of him with both arms from behind, before going down. Atkinson’s whistle sounded very decisive as it blew, with his outstretched arm pointing to the spot.
James Milner time.
Warnock wasted no time to react; he replaced Hoilett with Josh Murphy. Klopp responded by fielding Joe Gomez for Trent.
The home team’s drive seemed to have fizzed out after they conceded the second goal. They still tried, but nothing worked for them at this point. Their passing, both short and long, became very sloppy, and in the last minute of the 90, they defended rather poorly too and allowed Salah to combine well with Firmino and break into the box. However, Salah’s shot came off his knee and though it was going into the corner, it didn’t have the pace to beat Etheridge.
Even the excellent Cardiff goalkeeper turned sloppy with his passing late on, and the last play of the game was his as he blasted a long punt forward out of bounds.
Nothing can be argued against Liverpool’s performance in this game. They utterly dominated for about 98% of it, and though Cardiff still could have snatched something from it, they made sure the points were in the suitcase for the trip back to Merseyside. Hopefully, Fabinho’s injury will prove not too serious.
Every player that was called upon did a great job, and even though Salah and Firmino missed clear-cut chances, they both worked relentlessly and made a huge contribution to the result.
The race goes on; the Reds are back on top, but City still have a game in hand – until Wednesday, when they stroll to the other side of Manchester to face United. Not much hope in that one for Liverpool given how Everton demolished Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team earlier today, but this is no time to lose heart.
As for Liverpool, it’s Huddersfield Town at Anfield on Friday.
We Walk On.